Keith Gordon, Fight for Children’s chief operating officer who at the beginning of the new year will become the head of the organization, promised me that this year’s Fight Night, the organization’s acclaimed annual fundraiser held last Thursday, would be something special. His comment was an understatement. I’ve been to about eight of these events held each year at the Washington Hilton, but the 2016 version was truly exceptional in spectacle and execution.
If you have never been fortunate enough to join the gala I think I have finally come up with an analogy that will help you understand why it sells out each and every fall: attending Fight Night is like landing in New York’s Times Square. There are so many sights and sounds that the senses quickly become filled to the brim with excitement and anticipation for what is taking place right in front of you.
First, I must start with one of the main improvements. Like years ago, the cocktail reception once again includes food. Lots of it. When Under Armour took over the event one thing that disappeared from the open bar period were the appetizers. Thankfully, now they are back, although I still miss the lamb chops.
Then there are the guests. Senator Mark Warner gave me a warm greeting as did Fight for Children chairman Raul Fernandez. Mr. Fernandez told me how excited he was about tonight and I compliment his quotes about the extravaganza such as this one from the Washington Post, “It’s like planning a wedding every year and at the end of the night you’re exhausted.”
An extremely relaxed Dr. Kurt Newman, president and CEO of Children’s National Health System and a Fight for Children board member, joked that I was a big shot for being in attendance. He kindly invites me every year to the tribute that his hospital pays to the legacy of Joseph E. Robert, Jr., the philanthropist who created Fight for Children and originated Fight Night. He passed away at the end of 2011.
The reception area that included the food, sorry I mentioned it again, also contained the silent auction filled with sports memorabilia. The fundraising effort has been augmented with games such as basketball and hockey puck shooting courtesy of our local teams. Cheerleaders from these organizations posed for pictures with the guests.
It was then on to the main ballroom. Attendees socialized between the boxing matches taking place in the famous ring that also serves as a stage positioned in the middle of the grand space and topped by an electronic billboard across its perimeter. I ran into Bret Baier, FOX News Channel’s chief political anchor and anchor of the show Special Report. I use Mr. Baier’s New York Times bestselling book about his son, “Special Heart”, to provide leadership lessons to my staff back at my job. Also making her way toward me was D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. After she finished talking to ex-Mayor Adrian Fenty, I asked her if she had selected a new Chancellor for DCPS. She stated that she had not picked one yet, after which I proposed that she give the job to me. I told her that the first thing I would do would be to turn all schools into charters. “All school into charters,” Ms. Bowser smiled, “I don’t know about that.”
Attention turned to Kevin Plank as he took his seat next to the ring. The Under Armour founder, CEO, and chairman who I interviewed just last week for my book about Joe Robert, seemed to especially enjoy the match of Muay Thai Boxing, boxing in which the fighters can also use their feet. The approximately 2,000 men attired in black-tie together with a smaller proportion of elegantly women were soon served dinner, including as is tradition, foot long steaks. Cigar smoke filled the air. Hostesses in red gowns delivered cocktails to the guests.
There was also a plethora of musical entertainment. America’s Got Talent’s Sal Valentinetti serenaded the attendees with Frank Sinatra-syle songs as they entered the ballroom. Sheila E. gave a highly energetic performance from a stage at the south end of the hall, and once the boxing had concluded, Foreigner brought the crowd to its feet. I didn’t realize how many tremendous hits this band has had in its history.
Past midnight it was time for Fight Night After Dark for dessert. This was the first year the after party was held at the Washington Hilton. As soon as I arrived someone was tugging at my arm. It was Kaya Henderson, the recently department DCPS chancellor. I asked her whether she was working in education and she said that she was currently simply visiting family. I told her that we needed her back. I then ran back into Mr. Gordon. I asked him how he thought the evening went. He could hardly contain his exhilaration, “We had the chance to showcase the future of Fight Night. While the feedback has been incredible the best compliment by far has been that Joe would have loved it.”
He most certainly would have. The event raised over $5.1 million to support the health and education of low-income children in Washington D.C. and Baltimore.